PHOENIX – Robert Kraft is like E.F. Hutton. When he speaks, people listen.
As owner of a four-time Super Bowl champion, including the most recent one, Kraft is one of the most influential owners in the NFL. When he speaks about any league matter, it is newsworthy. Even more so when it is a topic over which he exerts some decision-making power. Placing a new NFL team or teams in Los Angeles would qualify.
Kraft is one of six owners who sits on a newly-formed committee that is dedicated to exploring opportunities for pro football to return to L.A. It has been more than two decades since the Rams and Raiders called Los Angeles home, but both teams, plus the San Diego Chargers, are making serious pushes to relocate to the second-largest media market in the United States.
Naturally, Kraft was besieged by media from the West Coast and those who cover the league on a national basis for his take on the seemingly inevitable rebirth of NFL football in L.A. He said he believed at least one team would soon be back in Los Angeles, and if he had his way, there would be two.
"I was sad 20 years ago," he began, "when I came into the league and two teams moved out of the L.A. market. It was just very unfortunate, and I don't think it's good that we've let a generation of fans, young kids, grow up without teams there. The good news is that we have a quarterback from the [San Francisco] Bay Area, and we have a lot of Patriots fans out there [in California], but it's not good for the NFL. I really believe within the next year we'll have two teams in this market. In there are good plans, but we have a little committee that we're working with the different owners. We have some real good options. We'll see what happens."
Kraft also emphasized that he didn't believe NFL market expansion was going to happen – adding a new franchise to an area that doesn't currently have a team – but also remarked that any community with a team today must be given every opportunity to retain that team. St. Louis, specifically, came up during the discussion with Kraft.
"I think we have to be very careful and responsible to different markets who really step up and do what they want to do. If they do, we have a responsibility to make sure there's a team in that market. If they come up with a plan that looks pretty good and a strong financial package, we the NFL have an obligation, in my opinion, to have a team in St. Louis. I think the fans, just like what happened in Buffalo or any of the markets. But they have to be able to support the team."
While St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland (the latter two are pursuing a joint venture in L.A.) have officially made proposals for Los Angeles, Kraft maintained he wasn't sure yet which club or clubs would eventually move there.
"I think they've all been forthcoming," he said of the three aforementioned ownership groups. "I don't think we should have a team or teams in L.A. if we don't have a great venue. I mean, there are so many choices in L.A., and coming back into the market, I believe it's going to be first-class. I'm excited about it. I think L.A. should be a market where we play Super Bowls, where we have an NFL experience. We have [NFL] Network out here. There's a lot of things that can be done around it and allow the NFL to be a showplace... Integrating everything and doing it in a proper real estate development.
"By the way, I'm just speaking what I believe," he pointed out. "There might just be one team, but I really think to support the financial commitment of doing the kind of stadium that's necessary in L.A., you need the resources of two teams. That's just my feeling. I might be wrong. And then whether it's done simultaneously or not, personally, I would think that would be the best way… it could happen that one would come in later, but I would like to see it be simultaneous."
He was less optimistic, at least in the short term, about the prospect of the NFL expanding its playoff system to include 14 teams. There have been considerable discussions on the topic, he noted, because some owners want a greater chance of making the postseason and winning a title, like the Patriots did yet again this past season.
"[Playoff expansion] definitely won't happen this year," Kraft declared. "We're analyzing the facts, but I think it's something that could happen when we go long-term with our Thursday Night [television] package, that we tie it in to that. We'll see what happens."
Kraft added that his fellow owners have been gracious in wishing him well following New England's fourth Super Bowl win last month here in Phoenix.
"There are a lot of congratulations. They're telling us they hope we enjoy it, and they all want what we were privileged to get. We understand that."